England needed to win the toss. In addition to the demolition which would have followed another Australian first innings, it was all that saved the Barmy Army, myself and the entire viewing public of Sky from rioting following the omission of Monty.
Pundits from both sides were astounded and everyone had to admit they could not fathom what Fletcher was thinking. Should England’s pace attack misfire again Boycott may suddenly have lots of company in demanding his head.
Strauss and Cook both looked assured in the opening session, Strauss was even hooking confidently, coming down on the ball smartly and obviously having learnt the lessons of the Gabba. Brett Lee was put through his paces in mid-off and had to dive to save more than one boundary from Cook.
But just as the hard work was finished, with the ball worn and the bowlers tiring, they gave up.
Strauss left his bottle with the rest of the drinks and within 3 balls he was gone with a timid poke and Cook followed soon after.
One brings two is a cricketing law you cannot avoid.
And so it was with Collingwood, one solid innings brought another gritty display from England’s most dependable player. Leaving the crease on 98* will only spur him on further in this series.
KP continued to get his war on Warne, lofting boundaries seemingly off a slice.
The most encouraging sign was the nifty 60 of Ian Bell.
Warne claimed that he owned the little lad’s soul in between the tests, but Bell showed that he really has grown in confidence since his infamous pair at the real Oval – hopefully he will continue in the footsteps of Collingwood and KP and now exploit the increasing fragility of the convict bowling.
As McGrath shows his age and Lee struggles for menace if not pace, and as Buchannon shows as much madness in not picking Shaun Tait as Fletcher does with Monty, England can bat for as long as they like, if – if – if Flintoff comes good.
Strauss and Cook are both good solid batsmen who are coming off a cracking run of form. They will find their feet in time, and until then they are doing a good job of absorbing the sting of the new ball.
Flintoff on the other hand has not had a good knock since India. Jones and Giles are not to be relied on for anything. They are in the team thanks to Fletcher’s favoritism and in the teeth of all wisdom.
If England are to capitalise tonight Collingwood and Pieterson need to stay in and Freddie needs to blaze away at one end and hope Jones or Giles can hang around long enough to support him.
The series is still alive, but very much in the balance.